Reeling after losing to a one-win Kansas City Chiefs team the week before, the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals hit the road to face another struggling squad in the Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas was 2-9 and on its way to a 3-13 record in what would be Hall of Famer Tom Landry’s last season as head coach. The woebegone Cowboys featured Herschel Walker at running back and a hot-shot rookie, future Hall of Fame wide receiver named Michael Irvin, but the rest of the roster was littered with forgettable offensive weapons such as Steve Pelluer, Darryl Clack, Thorton Chandler, Everett Gay and Todd Fowler.
And having learned their letdown lesson the week before, the Bengals went to Dallas and delivered a Texas-sized beating by racing to a 38-10 fourth-quarter lead before settling for a 38-24 victory.
“We got our momentum back, I think,” Cincinnati head coach Sam Wyche said after watching his team improve to 9-3. “Our team knows we played well enough to win and win by a big margin.”
Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason threw for 196 yards and four touchdowns and running back James Brooks ran for a season-high 148 yards, 51 of which came on the game’s first touchdown. Brooks also caught one of Esiason’s scoring strikes, but the big story was the re-emergence of tight end Rodney Holman, who caught two touchdowns on the way to what would be a season total of three.
Holman also tied his season high with six catches after snaring just one or fewer in seven of the previous eight games and finished with a team-high 81 receiving yards.
“I knew Rodney was going to have a big day,” Esiason said. “He may have thought he was the forgotten man in our passing offense, but he’s not. I told him to expect a big week this week.”
Despite Esiason’s comments, Holman said he never felt like a forgotten man.
“I was satisfied. I knew I had to keep my wits about myself,” he said. “I was happy because we were winning, and I was satisfied with other aspects of my game, blocking and all that. If I can help the team any way, I’ll take it.”
Ickey Woods scored the Bengals’ other touchdown on a 10-yard run that made it 38-10 with 10:22 left in the game. It was Woods’ 10th TD of the season, tying the Bengals franchise record he would later obliterate with five more scores before season’s end.
In addition to erasing the bad taste from the loss to Kansas City, the win at Dallas sent the Bengals home with some momentum ahead of their showdown with 11-1 Buffalo, the team they would meet again in the AFC Championship Game.
“We’re 9-3 and we’ve got three of the next four at home. We’re going to be tough,” Wyche correctly predicted.
Nov. 20, 1988
At Texas Stadium
Cincinnati 38, Dallas 24
Cincinnati 7 17 7 7 — 38
Dallas 3 0 7 14 — 24
C: James Brooks 51 run (Jim Breech kick), 7:18
D: Roger Ruzek 44 field goal, 10:49
C: Rodney Holman 20 pass from Boomer Esiason (Breech kick), 6:22
C: Breech 41 field goal
C: Holman 5 pass from Esiason (Breech kick)
D: Herschel Walker 11 run (Ruzek kick), 7:35
C: Brooks 13 pass from Esiason (Breech kick), 14:43
C: Ickey Woods 10 run (Breech kick), 4:38
D: Alexander 8 pass from Steve Pelluer (Ruzek kick), 10:14
D: Chandler 1 pass from Pelluer (Ruzek kick), 12:04
Cincinnati – Boomer Esiason 16-29-0-205; Dallas – Steve Pelluer 16-23-1-185, Kevin Sweeney 4-13-1-32
Cincinnati – James Brooks 16-148, Ickey Woods 10-47, Boomer Esiason 3-10, Stanley Wilson 3-9; Dallas – Herschel Walker 27-131, Darryl Clack 1-17, Kevin Sweeney 2-15, Steve Pelluer 3-12, Todd Fowler 1-4
Cincinnati – Rodney Holman 6-81, Cris Collinsworth 3-63, Eddie Brown 2-37, James Brooks 3-11, Ickey Woods 1-7, Tim McGee 1-6; Dallas – Michael Irvin 4-94, Darryl Clack 4-40, Thorton Chandler 2-22, Todd Fowler 4-17, Everett Gay 1-8, Doug Cosbie 1-7, Steve Folsom 1-7, Ray Alexander 1-6